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‘Under the Influence’ Review: A portrait of YouTube star David Dobrik

David Dobrik, the 25-year-old YouTube superstar, has a grin that says a thousand words. Dobrik is the quintessence of cute – eager and baby-faced, with big dark puppy eyes and limp brown hair that’s combed so it never looks combed. Dressed in sweatshirts that he wears like pajamas, he looks like the comic book character Dondi, who was crossed with Mark Wahlberg in 1995, crossed with the meanest lad in the world. When Dobrik grins, his face lights up, but he’s a self-contained cracker. That grin is simultaneously a grin, a freeze-frame guffaw, and a sneer. It’s the look of a class clown, a kid who can’t believe what he’s getting away with, or the nicest now-polite office mate who’s also, in case you weren’t looking, the worst company traitor.

In short, David Dobrik is a guy who looks a lot like America.

“Under the Influence” is a very compelling, very disturbing, very relevant for our time documentary directed by Casey Neistat (himself a YouTube personality) that chronicles Dobrik’s rise to become the most vibrant and now infamous influencer of his generation. “Influencer” is a poisonously insidious term because it sounds cool and pompous and important, but what it means is: someone who has become famous enough on social media to get the big bucks for making video games, wine coolers and Chipotle drives. And that’s all it means. That is the influence Part. (You are a Vertex spokesperson.)

The fame part of Dobrik’s rise was based on how he made himself the new king of the Most Insane Home Videos Nation. He released his first vlog on July 31, 2015 when he was 19, and within a few years of posting hundreds of vlogs with the dissolute rat bunch of young pranksters he dubbed the Vlog Squad, he became one at 18 million Celebrity wowed followers on YouTube, addicted to the promise that in a David Dobrik video you never knew what you were going to watch next. The “Jackass” TV episodes and movies always include a disclaimer that states Don’t try this at home. Dobrik was the guy who tried everything at home – his videos were do-it-yourself Jackass, full of stunts and pranks and naughty sitcom sketches held together by a self-absorbed yes-you-can-do that! Brawl that could have been part of a sociopathic prankster revue.

We see clips of Dobrik in “Jimmy Fallon” and “GMA,” or goofing around in his vlogs with the likes of Justin Bieber, Kevin Hart, and Borat, and there’s a ton of footage from his performances on campus and other places where he is greeted like the early Beatles (although they never inspired signs saying things like “Look @ My TITS”). The film presents all manner of testimonies of how the fame enjoyed by a YouTuber like Dobrik is more intense, personal and blah blah blah than the fame that defines traditional stars. Sinatra, Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise, Lady Gaga – forget it! Her fans, it seems, never felt connected for them in the total way fans do with their social media driven influencer gods.

But that’s all a fluffy way of saying that in the age of ambitious distraction, when everyone feels like they only have one shot at making the 1% (and therefore, you know, a solid and secure life to have). ) is if they can somehow become famous, a character like David Dobrik represents the illusion of closeness to fame. You are a follower; he replied to your message. So now you’re just three clicks away from breaking up with being a celebrity (or something) yourself. In the film, we meet one of Dobrik’s superfans, Lexie Violett, whose life in a lonely-looking Coney Island apartment is illuminated by what she describes as the religious nature of her devotion to Dobrik. His vlogs and the prospect of meeting him are at the center of her existence.

But of course David Dobrik is now overshadowed by a dark cloud due to the scandal which for a while looked set to bring him down. In 2018, Dobrik and his fellow donkeys, most notably horndog ticker “Durte” Dom Zeglaitis, lured a group of young followers to come to their apartment and agree to be part of a “fivesome.” The women were in college and under the legal drinking age, but Dobrik’s crew hit them with hard liquor, and then one of the women — identified in the film by the alias Hannah — went into the bedroom with Dom. Though she never filed a complaint, she claimed they had sex without her consent, and the allegation of rape tore the veil of naughty boyhood from the vlog team’s antics.

Her behavior, captured in a vlog this evening that Dobrik posted with the caption, “She shouldn’t have been playing with fire,” was—in a word—predatory. After Hannah reached out to him, Dobrik took down the vlog, but it wasn’t until a year later, when Kat Tenbarge, a digital culture reporter for Insiders, wrote a story about the incident, that he came back and threatened Dobrik’s existence as an on YouTuber.

Casey Neistat began filming Dobrik for his documentary before the scandal broke. He records the whole rise and fall, the latter as it unfolded. Dobrik’s descent was exacerbated by another incident when Jeff Wittek spun around on a rope hanging from a piece of industrial equipment for one of the Vlog Squad stunts, eventually slamming his face into the machine. They could have been killed (and still double in one eye). Dobrik managed to suppress the story for a while, but eventually it came to light.

All of this leads to David Dobrik becoming a superstar of a form of entertainment that is essentially a ruthless mode of exploitation, with danger and illegality built into its appeal. But that’s where Dobrik’s boy-next-door personality comes in. Born in Slovakia but raised in Illinois playing tennis, Dobrik’s feisty fraternity boorishness is the cheerful quintessence of what was once called “all-American.” He’s like the poster child for white privilege.

As “Under the Influence” reveals, he is a very crafty manipulator of his own image. As he tells Neistat: “I convince I’m having fun guys,’ and when the filmmaker tells him he’s good at it, Dobrik thanks him, adding, ‘It’s all part of my storyline.’ That’s how you give things away. At a college full of screaming fans, Dobrik reads a sticky note left on his car by a young woman asking him to help pay for her tuition. She approaches the stage and David hands her a check for $15,000 like a guardian angel. (A girl in the crowd holds up a phone with a sign saying, “Be my sugar daddy, I need a computer.”) The filmmaker asks David where this philanthropic compulsion comes from, and he replies, “I love reactions. I love seeing how people react.” Not the answer anyone who is would give not an incurable narcissist and self-promoter. But Dobrik made Giving Stuff Away a part of his brand — which only widened his audience (suddenly he was a Frathouse jester reincarnated as Monty Hall).

For a while, the corporations stopped giving money him. It looked like it had been cancelled. According to Kat Tenbarge, who is a fairly astute observer of the new digital fame, “You feel like all the people who gave David all this money and all this mainstream format didn’t look at the content. Because no company would willingly, at least I wouldn’t assume, sign off on anything that goes on in these vlogs.” Stuff like drinking sprees and winking versions of Girls Gone Wild antics. Actor and YouTube star Josh Peck argues in the documentary that the essence of YouTube’s appeal is that it’s non-corporate. “You make this deal with Google,” he says, “and you never walk into a boardroom and you never shake a hand. There’s no way to really check. And inevitably, a tap of money begins.” He’s right about the lack of control. But he – like most fans – errs with the notion that this is somehow “non-corporate.” It’s just a new kind of company.

Dobrik comes across a version of the YouTube blanket. He pitches a gonzo variety show to Netflix and is shocked when they turn him down. And after being hit by the scandal of being branded an enabler of alleged sexual assault, Dobrik is doing his best despite still living in the $9 million Los Angeles home we see him buying (his bed is wide enough for eight pillows). to look chastised and ashamed. For a time all his sponsors let him go. But after a hiatus, he’s returning to vlogging on June 15, 2021, three months after the Insider exposé. And his fans are there for him. He’s back up. With various sponsors just biding their time. The premise of capitalism is that it follows money. In the case of David Dobrik, money does the talking — and what it says is that he’s going to vlog, and a whole lot of followers are going to eat it up, even if it means Rome is burning.

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